Remember that ’70’s pop song, “By the Rivers of Babylon”? I got thinking about it as we’ve reminisced a lot lately. And truth be told, on plenty of days in the past couple of years, we haven’t felt like singing those songs in Babylon, any more than the Israelites.
Our doleful tale might read a bit like theirs: “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy… How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:1-4).
Like God’s people in captivity, I wondered… How can I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land? How could I sing at all—any song—when everything had gone wrong, when I was stuck in a place—physically and emotionally—that I had no desire to be? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there who’s ever felt this way.
Hanging Up the Harp
Music vanished from my life after the trail of tears that dragged us here, kicking and screaming (on my part, at least). My songs in Babylon sounded more like wails of doubt: “‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night…?’” (Job 35:10).
Every time I opened my mouth to speak in public, I burst into blubbering. It stung to hear sweet words on my lips when my heart felt sour, bitter, and cold. “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart” (Prov. 25:20).
And to my husband’s amazement, I had no desire to sing in the Christmas choir that first summer in the strange land of Coquimbo. It’s not pretty to admit, but this girl who was born singing couldn’t be bothered to practice with the strangers who now surrounded me. Even listening, I felt like a captive serving hard labor by the rivers of Babylon.
Making a Home in Captivity
In fact, some days I questioned what earthly good I might accomplish in this strange place where friends were few, traditions entrenched, and culture confined to an impenetrable glass bubble. I could more than identify with the prophet Ezekiel: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice” (Eze. 33:32). Did it matter how well I ‘performed’ my ‘sacrifice of praise’ if nobody heard or appreciated it?
Then a miracle of deliverance happened.
In our ladies’ group we talked one day about the importance of homes and family life to God (under the Titus 2 sub-topic of teaching the younger women “…to be busy at home…” v. 5). I’ve taught—and believe—that God wants us to care for and even enjoy our homes. Except, I didn’t much.
But there leaped God’s instructions through the prophet Jeremiah to His exiled people. Yeah, the same ones who refused to sing or move on with their lives, for mourning the good old days back home in Zion. “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…” (Jer. 29:5-7)
The message, paraphrased, was LIVE! Get up, go to work, make a home and friends, and worship the Lord in this strange land.
Droplet Gift #18: I will sing songs in Babylon, because God has plans for me even here (see Jer. 29:11). And for you, wherever you find yourself.
Choosing Songs of Joy
So I made a conscious decision to transpose my thoughts. Like the Israelites, it’s irrelevant why or how I arrived here. I’m in God’s place, for God’s time, in the center of His purpose and in His heart of care.
As in the song, my daily prayer has become, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14). May I be the first to live what I sing.
Along with peace like the rivers of Babylon, our songs can flood back, old and new:
- “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble… May my lips overflow with praise… May my tongue sing of your word…” (Ps. 119:165, 171-172)
- “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” (Ps. 32:7).
- “…He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Ps. 40:2-3).
- “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things…” (Ps. 98:1).
Finally, it’s high time to unpack my harp. It’s in a box around here somewhere, or maybe hanging on the palm tree in the yard. And oh, I joined the choir ?
Lord, don’t take me home until…the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart are pleasing in Your sight.